Saturday, January 16, 2021

Disabled Gazans disproportionately suffer under Israeli occupation

By K. Künzl - January 09, 2020
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Gaza]

Anas Hatem El-Munyrawi, a 27-year-old mechanical engineering student from Gaza woke up in a hospital bed on 18 May 2018 to find his lower left leg amputated below the knee.

El-Munyrawi was attending a demonstration at the Gaza border with friends when he was shot by an Israeli sniper.  Unarmed and defenceless, El-Munyrawi fell to the ground as a medical team surrounded him. 

 A few short hours later he awoke and discovered his life had been changed forever.

“When I woke up was when the real suffering began. The pain was unbearable for months, I felt so powerless,” El-Munyrawi told Palestine Monitor.

According to Mohammed Dwaima, Director of the Artificial Limbs and Polio Center (ALPC) located in Gaza City, El-Munyrawi is one of 249 Gazans who have sustained disabling injuries since the start of the Great March of Return rallies in March 2018.

A United Nations report finds that Israeli gunfire inflicts “extensive bone and tissue damage” against individuals, that require “very complex and timely limb reconstructive surgeries” for which hospitals in Gaza are poorly equipped. 

However, suffering does not stop there. The 12-year Israeli-Egypt blockade on Gaza has made recovery for Palestinian amputees a long and arduous process, restricting access to proper social services and the entry of doctors and sufficient medical supplies. 

According to a 2019 UK Aid report on Disability in Gaza, around seven per cent of the Gazan population suffer from some form of impairment. Violent Israeli military force in the region has brought mobility-related disabilities to the majority, followed by sight, hearing, and learning impairments.

Wael Abu Riziq, Executive Director at the National Center for Community Rehabilitation in Gaza City, states that disabled people living in Gaza face many institutional and environmental obstacles in addition to barriers acknowledging their rights.  

The report outlines these barriers as; access to public services, employment, and social inclusion.

Conflict and poverty are strongly interlinked with disability in Gaza. The Israeli blockade has greatly restricted access to basic services such as healthcare, education, water, sanitation, and electricity, making uninhabitable conditions even more debilitating for the physically disabled.

Poverty in Gaza largely stems from lack of employment opportunities and funding in the region.  A 2011 Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics Disability survey found that over 90 per cent of disabled Gazans were unemployed.  

According to the survey, a lack of plans, strategies, and funding to include people with disabilities in the labour market is a great contributor to this shocking statistic, in addition to a negative stigma of disabled persons by employers. 

This can also be reflected in the 40 per cent of households with disabled children surveyed in Gaza that were found to have monthly incomes around half of the extreme poverty line.

Dwaima says that being one of the only prosthetic limb centres in the region, access to healthcare and rehabilitation is scarce and challenging due to the restriction of movement in and out of Gaza. 

“The problem here is we lack the material, there are no referrals, no cooperation or coordination with the minister of health, and a shortage of doctors,” Dwaima told Palestine Monitor.

Dwaima says that 28 different materials needed to build the prosthetic limbs at the ALPC have been held at the Gaza border by Israel due to reasons of “security risks”.

The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) cited their concerns for the materials to be used for a “dual-purpose” but dismissed Dwaima’s inquiries for more information.

According to Dwaima the services that are available are usually short and project-based, not lasting more than 12 months, that lack the funding, mobile clinics, and follow up initiatives for proper rehabilitation.

Poor infrastructure and transportation also hinder disabled persons access to healthcare and social services in Gaza. 

According to Riziq, there are limited transportation options for the disabled in Gaza and those that treatment centres offer are too costly for the average household. 

In addition to the lack of medical equipment for the physically impaired, most prominently prosthetics and hearing aids, treatment centres also lack the necessary amounts of examination beds and seats for patients. 

Access to education is also another institutional disadvantage for the disabled in Gaza.

The Palestine Bureau for statistics survey also found that “42.2 per cent of people with disabilities in Gaza had never enrolled in school” compared to the West Bank figure of 35.5 per cent, and “27.1 per cent reported dropping out and that 56.3 per cent were illiterate”.  

A majority of underfunded schools in Gaza are unable to accommodate for the physically impaired in infrastructure and staff poorly trained to accommodate for the mentally impaired in the class curriculum.

In honour of International Day for Disabled Persons on the 3 of December, Israel donated three pediatric wheelchairs to the UN Human Rights Council. 

The move sparked widespread outrage, with critics calling it a halfhearted attempt to facade the deliberate maiming of Palestinians in the Gaza strip during the GMR rallies. 

Palestinian legal provisions stipulated in the legislation of 1999 No. 4 Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is criticised for being outdated and a need for alignment with international disabled person rights.

Dwaima believes that the barriers for the disabled in Gaza should not be targeted simply on the individual level but institutionally. 

Over a year later El-Munyrawi is still continually struggling with his new reality, his hopes and plans to enter the workforce have been stalled until he can receive a more functional prosthetic from abroad and complete his physical training. 

“The occupation disabled me before I was shot, they disable us and then ignore us, this is just Israel’s way to make sure we remain weak, but I will never stop fighting for a better life,” El-Munyrawi told Palestine Monitor.

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